December 30, 2008

Respect for the D: Coaches not overlooking defense

SAN DIEGO - The Holiday Bowl matchup between Oklahoma State and Oregon has all the makings of being a shootout.

After all, it's a meeting of two top 10 offensive teams coupled with defensive units ranking 80th or worse. In short, the ESPN audience should enjoy the offensive juggernauts tonight.

Even with the offense being the major focus of this game, the two head coaches in this contest haven't overlooked the defensive side of the ball. Both Mike Gundy and Mike Bellotti talked up the other team's defense on Tuesday.

"I've said this from the start, but we've had a lot of respect right from the start for Oregon's defense," Gundy said. "They've got an end (Nick Reed) who is a Walter Camp All-American. I'm not so sure that this group as a secondary that we're playing - I don't know all the names, 2 (T.J. Ward and 6 (Walter Thurmond) and 32 (Jarius Byrd) and those guys that play back there - is as good a group as we've faced in the back end. They play well. They tackle well and run to the football. They're very diverse with what they do on defense and disguise well and I think they're a good defense."

While some of that might just be coachspeak, the Ducks do seem to have a big strength on the defensive side of the ball: putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Coming into the game, UO has averaged three sacks a game, good for sixth nationally.

"Both defenses are obviously under-appreciated right now simply because when you look at the numbers and the stats it has become an offensive world," Bellotti said.

While the OSU doesn't have a stat as impressive on the defensive side of the ball, the Pokes do fare well against opposition defenses. On the year, the Cowboys are 26th against the run, allowing 123 yards a game.

Both coaches agree that the explosiveness of their offenses can take away from a solid defensive outing over the course of a season.

"At times when you're on a team where your offense runs up big numbers I think the public and the media out there enjoys writing and talking about offense," Gundy said. "Maybe the old phrase that offense can sell tickets - the defense can get overlooked at times. But we have a lot of respect for their defense."

"When you're 9-3 you've found ways to win games," Bellotti said. "And their losses are against three teams that were No. 1 in the nation at some point. That's pretty impressive and very, very awesome. So I think we can talk about defense all we want but they've done it to the tune of nine wins."

In a game where both offenses are expected to put up major numbers, the difference between winning and losing could be a solid defensive stop. To that end, Bellotti believes the outcome of this one will have less to do with the offensive side.

"I do think this game will be decided by the defense that steps up and makes the most stops. And I think just making a stop sometimes against these offenses is going to be pretty awesome."

...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now!